DEAR HARRIETTE: I live in a college dorm and on every floor we have a freedom-of-speech bulletin board. Someone has chosen to keep a posting of the situation of what’s going on in Iraq. My boyfriend, in what he thought would be a joke, wrote something insensitive next to a headline about Iraqis. This comment greatly offended me. He says that he has a right to do this, since it is a freedom-of-speech wall. I disagree. I think that there should be a limitation. How far should “freedom of speech” go? — Leah, Altoona, Pa.
Leah: I often remind people that with freedom comes responsibility. When one is not responsible for one’s words and actions, all kinds of repercussions ensue.
Should there be limitations for your freedom-of-speech board? Maybe not. Perhaps you and others like you should write your feelings on the board about the comments your boyfriend made. People often make disparaging comments about each other, including racist ones. Use your bulletin board as an opportunity to hold people accountable for their comments. Ask questions to spark meaningful dialogue. They can include: Why would you say “x or y” about the Iraqis? Where did you get your information? What makes you think what you’ve said is true? To what end are you making these assertions? How would you feel if someone made comments like that about you?
You can even begin a discussion about what freedom of speech means. Go to the Constitution for guidance. Read in other governmental and legal texts for points on which you can debate this topic. Turn what feels like a horrible conflict into a meaningful discussion. You never know. Your boyfriend may come around to a more sensitive way of thinking in the process.